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Online sales growth slowed in April, while high street sales rose

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Online sales growth slowed in April as shoppers headed for the high street during their holiday break, new British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures out today suggest.

Sales of non-food products grew by 11.2% last month, compared to the same month a year earlier, the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Monitor showed. In April 2013, they had increased by 6.3%. Online growth in April 2014, however, was the lowest in the year to date.

Online sales represented 16.1% of all non-food sales, up from 15.9% in April 2013. But online sales made a weaker contribution to total retail last month, boosting total retail sales across all channels by 0.5%.

At the same time, total retail sales grew by 5.7%, and by 4.2% on a like-for-like basis.

Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC , said: “Online sales have grown steadily over the last year with a 12-month average change of 12.7% year on year, which is testament to the great British online retail offering. However, the April 2014 growth of 11.2%, against 12.8% in March shows that when an opportunity like the Easter holiday arises, customers like to enjoy a great experience in store.

“Retailers know that customers want to experience shopping across all channels and have risen to the challenge of using digital technology to draw customers into new-format stores where everything is available at the touch of a button.”

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG , said: “While the Easter break helped the high street, the sunshine proved to be something of a distraction to the online channel, which saw sales slow, with just over 16% of non-food items bought online. While this is a fall on previous months’ levels it is an expected blip and reminds us that when the sun shines and people are on holiday they are still attracted by the theatre of the store. Now the Easter bank holiday season has passed, I expect online sales to continue unabated.”

In food retailing, Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of the IGD, said sales were growing strongly online, through discounters and in convenience stores. She said: “95% of food shoppers now regularly spread their spend across more than one channel and a third use five or more channels (hypermarket supermarket, convenience, food discounter, fixed price discounter, online, frozen food store, specialist store or farm shop).”

The figures came in the same week as Barclaycard analysis of the credit and debit card transactions that it processes found that consumers used their cards to spend 3.7% more in April than the same time last year. Like the BRC, it found in-store spending rose – according to its figures by 3.1% – while online spending grew less fast than in previous months, by 5.8% in April and down from 6.4% in March. It put the move towards the high street down to warm weather and a late Easter.

But the tale was not the same across categories. Faster growth was seen in men’s (+66%), women’s (+41%) and family (+23%) clothing. Online DIY spending grew by 44% (and 11.9% across channels) and online spending on the garden by 40% (+20.2% overall).

The Barclaycard Value Index also showed that spending on discount retailers, who are less likely to sell online, rose quickly – up by 29.8% on last year.

Val Soranno Keating, chief executive of Barclaycard, said: “Though many economic indicators continue to paint a positive picture and the talk is of a recovering economy, the improvements are yet to trickle down and positively impact on household budgets. While the growth in spending in April is encouraging, this is as likely to reflect the better weather and the long Easter weekend as any improvement in the economy.

“Lack of wage growth has acted as a brake on consumer spending for a long time and, though there are signs that it could finally be improving, until we see several months of real wage increases, consumers will likely remain cautious with their spending, with growth remaining uneven in the coming months.”

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